Alabama is ranked third in the Coaches Poll, fourth in the Associated Press rankings, and fifth by the College Football Playoff Selection Committee. Misssissippi State is ranked first in all those polls.
Bama and State will kick off at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium with television coverage by CBS. The Tide is 8-1 overall and 5-1 in Southeastern Conference games. The Bulldogs are 9-0 overall, 5-0 in the SEC.
Saturday’s winner is the only team (finally!) that will control its own destiny for the SEC West Division championship, a spot in the SEC Championship Game, and one of the four places in the College Football Playoff.
Following practice in bitter cold Wednesday, Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, “We had a good practice, the guys had good spirit and good energy. We’ve had good week so far. We’ve got guys getting healthier and able to practice more and participate more.”
Ordinarily, Mississippi State has been little more than a bump in the road when Alabama has been playing for championships. This will be the 99th game in the series and Bama has a 77-18-3 advantage. In Tuscaloosa, the Tide is 44-9-1. Alabama has won sixth straight in the series and 11 of the last 13 games.
What does Saban think about that?
“What happened in the past doesn’t matter,” he said. “What matters is that they have a very good team and they play very well. They have a very significant amount of things they have been able to accomplish in going 9-0 and beating some very good teams on the road.
“It’s going to be a real challenge for us to play the kind of football we need to play on both sides of the ball and special teams to have success against them.
“We have a tremendous amount of respect for this team.”
Mississippi State’s biggest road win was at LSU, 34-29, on Sept. 20.
Saban looks forward to the home environment, particularly after a difficult road atmosphere in last week’s 20-13 overtime win at LSU.
“Our team has always responded to a great atmosphere at home and we had a fantastic atmosphere for the Florida game and the A&M game,” he said. “It seems like a long time ago since we only had one home game in seven weeks but I know our players are certainly looking forward to coming home and I know our fans will do everything they can do to create the kind of atmosphere that’s going to help our players respond emotionally the way they need to be able to play well in this game.”
In the two SEC home game wins, Bama has outscored the opposition by an average of 50.5 to 10.5. In four conference road games, with Alabama managing only a 3-1 record, the Tide has averaged 21.3 points, given up 17.3.
Saban was asked his thoughts about the difference of how his team plays at home and on the road.
“Every time we play a road game we try to figure out what it is that we need to do so that we can duplicate that kind of execution and that kind of consistency.
“And I don’t know.”
He said that at Tennessee Bama played “pretty well for the first quarter and a half,” but otherwise road games have “been sort of up and down, inconsistent, played well at times when we needed to, but didn’t play with a lot of consistency throughout the game.
“We can’t really put our finger on exactly why that is, we just hope that the formula continues to work, whatever it is, that has helped us play well at home because it’s certainly going to be necessary for us to do that in this game this weekend.”